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"When one gains, another loses."


Originally posted at Eclectablog.

There is one very unfortunate aspect to the roll out of the Affordable Care Act. The tiny percentage of people who are being forced into new policies happens nearly all at once and at the very start of the roll out. The overwhelming benefits of having more Americans insured and covered by decent health care insurance don't really begin until January 1 and, even then, will take months or, in some cases, a few years to manifest themselves. In the long arc of history, that's fine. In the short 24-hour cable news cycle, though? Not so much.

Those who oppose the ACA are latching onto the plight of the 3% of Americans who will need to move to new policies, sometimes with higher costs to reflect the new requirement that they actually cover you if you are sick or injured rather than being what Bill Maher calls "hospital gown policies" because they don't cover your ass. It's no surprise. Up until now the only thing we've seen from Obamacare are a handful of positives. They've literally had nothing to complain about.

When the website rolled out like a jalopy with two flat tires and an overheated, Obamacare opponents seized on that as evidence that the entire concept was flawed and needed to be scrapped. But, now that the website is actually starting to work (it is for 90% of users) and the exchanges are starting to function as they should, opponents have had to change tactics. The latest attack has two parts: (1) Obama LIED! about you being able to keep your health insurance if you liked it and (2) people are having to pay more for their health insurance now to cover all of those lazy slackers who didn't have health insurance before.

The first one, that Obama lied, seems to imply something that we all know isn't true: that anything at all would have changed if the president had said, "A small percentage of Americans will pay more for their coverage because what they have now is so shitty that you'd be better off just putting your insurance premiums in a bank account which puts the rest of us on the hook when you get sick or hurt." If he had said that, does anyone really believe anything would have been different? Would these anti-Obamacare zealots have worked harder to prevent it from passing? Would there have been 65 attempts to repeal it in Congress instead of just 47? Of course not. It's simply something to justify their ill-informed antagonism that keeps them from having to admit this is actually about denying President Obama and the Democrats a victory.

The second part, that people forced out of their current policies are paying more to make up for the moochers who now get free or subsidized health insurance, is something just starting to creep into the discussion and it is, to my mind, more insidious. It is, in fact, an extrapolation of segregationists pitting newly freed slaves against poor whites in the 19th century and of the Republican's so-called "Southern Stategy" of the 20th century which used racist hatred for black Americans to win elections.

Although I had been catching whiffs of this odious meme for several days, it was this tweet that got my attention:

A response to Eclectablogger Amy Lynn Smith's excellent (and now viral) story about her success with Healthcare.gov and the savings she will enjoy thanks to competition on the healthcare exchange, this tweet's message that health care insurance in this country is a zero sum game was echoed in the many trolling comments on her piece. It's utter nonsense, of course. The prices for policies are not set by the government and, more importantly, insurance companies aren't subsidizing the premiums of one group of customers by raising the price on those with the lousiest coverage they offer.

But, wow, does this argument work with the people who hate Obamacare simply because they despise the president. Rather than having to admit that (and having to explain WHY while denying they are racists), they can simply point to the fact that some people are benefiting while a small fraction of people are not and draw a connection that does not exist. For the tea party cohort who slavishly following the Objectivist teachings of Ayn Rand as set forth in Atlas Shrugged, this touches a spot in their brain that sends stimulants into their bloodstream. It's Rand's theories of "makers" versus "takers" playing out in front of their eyes.

Republicans have been setting the stage for this argument to play out for several years. In 2011, Paul Ryan put it this way:

Seventy percent of Americans want the American dream. They believe in the American idea. Only 30 percent want the welfare state. Before too long, we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney had a similar message:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
It's a view that says life is a zero sum game. If someone wins -- like poor people or black people or brown people or lazy people -- then someone else, probably YOU, loses.

Meanwhile, the insurance companies are laughing all the way to the bank. They are doing what they have always done: shifting policies around, canceling some, creating others, in order to maximize their profits. Only now they can blame the ACA. A common excuse they use is that they are now forced to cover maternity care so they have to drop you from their plan and jack up your premiums by several hundred or even thousands of dollars per year with the new plan that does cover maternity care. This has those who don't plan to or cannot have children outraged. They don't realize that they are being fed an excuse that allows the insurance company to engage in some good old-fashioned American profit-taking at their expense. It's exploitation, pure and simple.

It's ironic that these so-called free market Libertarians and Republicans want a free market for things like privatizing government services and schools to for-profit corporations but have no interest in free market competition when it comes to health insurance. But that horse has left the barn and, when the dust settles and the exchanges really begin to work, people WILL begin to have more options and that competition will keep prices under control.

In the meantime, we will continue to have to battle the anti-ACA meme du jour. Don't let anyone try to tell you that this is a "makers" vs. "takers" situation. Insurance companies aren't raising costs on people who hate Obamacare so that they can give free mammograms to women. Insurance companies aren't kicking Obamacare haters off their policies and into higher-cost ones so that the health insurance slackers of America can get more free stuff. It's absurd on its face and we should all point that out whenever necessary.

I'll finish with a true story. One of the anti-Obamacare commenters on this site got so insulting to others that I had to ban him. Before I did so, I sent him an email saying that I had deleted one of his comments and he was welcome to try again if he could do so without insulting others. He said I might as well ban him and I told him I felt bad for someone who was so obviously angry at the world. He then explained that he had lost insurance for his wife, a cancer survivor, because of Obamacare. It turns out that his wife was one of the people who was told that their policy wasn't ACA-compliant because it didn't offer maternity coverage. He was outraged because they are senior citizens who won't ever have kids and they were facing hundreds and hundreds of dollars of higher premium costs every year, expenses they couldn't afford. He would have to sell his car, he said.

Amy and I offered to help this man and his wife. We found out some information about their situation and explained to him that, by shopping around, he should be able to find suitable coverage for a reasonable price and that, with the federal subsidy, his overall costs should be lower. That's when he told us he would NEVER take a subsidy. He wasn't going to be a burden on society, nosiree. Instead, his wife's employer had agreed to buy insurance for his company of less than ten people. So, instead of availing himself of the federal subsidies that are paid for a by a tiny incremental tax increase on the wealthy, he was willing to burden his wife's boss, a small businessman who was taking a huge hit to do the right thing for his employees.

I will give people like Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and Mitt Romney credit. These wealthy men have convinced a large number of poor people in this country that they should expect nothing from their government, even basic things like affordable health care coverage, if it means that millionaires and billionaires have to pay one cent more in their historically low taxes. As if poor people who benefit in any way from our American society are somehow the "takers' rather than the wealthiest Americans who benefit most.

It's a snow job of epic proportions and the exact thing that prompted the quote by John Steinbeck that "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."

To quote Rick Santorum, "what a snob".

Photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog

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